AT THE CHURCH I have had the privilege to lead since August 2007 — Bethesda Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, we do our best to take seriously the ministry of the Word of God at all times. Frequently in our Sunday morning worship gatherings, we have a time for the public reading of Scripture, early in the service, and usually separate from ‘the sermon.’ (See 1 Timothy 2:1-8, as well as 4:9-16 – especially vv. 13-14.)

Sometimes one of our elders leads us in this time, sometimes another designated person does so, and sometimes I take this opportunity to introduce the theme or message of the day, or to address some particular matter from the Scriptures that I don’t necessarily want or feel the need to devote to an entire sermon.

This Sunday, just two days from now, I plan use our ”public reading of Scripture and prayer” time to address the horrific events of this last week in my home country of the United States of America, specifically in Tucson, Arizona.

What seems a lifetime ago, I spent about eight months in southern Arizona for my U.S. Army Intelligence Officers’ Basic Course at Fort Huachuca (pronounced “Whaa-Chuu-Ka“) in Sierra Vista, Arizona from October 1988 through May 1989. Because Tucson is only about an hour and twenty minute drive away, presumably, it still serves as “the big city” to the civilians, soldiers, and officers at what we used to call “Fort We-Got-Cha.”

In retrospect, and in virtually every practical way, that part of my journey WAS a whole universe away and a lifetime ago — before Christ, before a ministry calling, before seminary, before my lovely wife Shelly and my two incredible daughters, before Bethesda and CANADA(!). Back then, I never would’ve imagined any of these gifts from my gracious God and self-sacrificing Saviour.

But here we are ….

Most of you will already know that, last Saturday, a deranged 22-year old man attempted to assassinate a United States representative, Gabrielle Giffords. She was conducting one of her “Congress on Your Corner” community events to meet with and hear from her constituents at a local Safeway store in suburban Tucson (Casas Adobes).

     Ms. Giffords survived, barely, but six others were killed and thirteen wounded, many of them seriously.

The dead include a beloved and brilliant United States federal judge, one of Ms. Giffords’s aides – himself a young man (30-years old) and recently engaged to be married, and a bright and beautiful 9-year old girl, who could’ve been my own daughter (just turned 10).

The 9-year old girl, Christina Taylor-Green, had recently been elected to her school’s student council, and she came to Ms. Giffords’s event to meet her own representative and to learn more about how her government works.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, many people and pundits presumed that the gunman had been politically motivated, most likely from the political right. Perhaps he had been incited, even, by the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and charged political and social environments of southern Arizona, and in the country, over the last few of election cycles.

It turns out not to have been the case.

As the story unfolds, and details give it shape, it becomes increasingly clear that the gunman was not particularly political, but severely disturbed and on a steepening downward spiral.

Even so, a very healthy and potentially constructive conversation has broken out over the consequences of our attitudes toward others who differ from us and the words that we use to express those differences.

As a participant in this conversation, on Sunday, before I read aloud Romans Twelve (the whole chapter), I plan to offer three lessons that we might learn from these recent events, as we move forward together into the future:

     1- Don’t turn away. All of us have turned away, perhaps moved away physically, from persons like this young man. On the bus, on the subway, on the street, maybe even at church, we have turned away because we see or sense that a person is mentally disturbed. But what if we were to reach out to such a person, offering friendship rather than further estrangement, trying to get them the help they need to be better, be more whole, and do better in the world that is, for them, spinning out of their control? For sure, we cannot be caretakers to every deranged and down-and-out person. But we can, I can do a lot better; I’m sure of it.

     2- Live every moment for the glory of God and the advance of His Kingdom. The only person who expected to die last Saturday, January 8th, at or about 10:10am MDT, outside of that local Safeway store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, seemed to have been the gunman. None of those six had any inkling that they only had seconds of life left to them. According to eyewitness reports, some of them spent their last seconds, heroically,  saving others. None of us know how long we have left on this earth. God’s word, however, makes clear that we all have a sacred responsibility to llve life to the fullest and to the glory of God, while we still can.

     3- Debate differences without demonizing. The inevitable and innate result of demonizing — or generalizing negatively, to use less sensational phrasing — is the defacing, diminishing, and devaluing of other human beings, who are [also] created in the image of a holy and loving and just and merciful God. We should be very careful with the ways in which we characterize others — in the world, in politics, and yes, in the church, too.

I offer these potentially transforming lessons to you and to myself. I hope it helps, someone, to make a more constructive contribution to the world that God has created and the work that He is doing in and through us these days.

Oh yes, hug your loved ones a bit more tightly, a bit more consciously, maybe just a bit more ….

Grace and peace from me and mine to you and yours,

Pastor Mark

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